Lydia van Gildenhuys has hurt me daily since I began the Absa Cape Epic, but in the nicest possible way. Lydia is one of our physiotherapists and has been my angel with the healing hands this week as she has massaged and worked the pain from each day’s ride out of legs that told me they had no business riding 781km in a week.
“You know I won’t hurt you on purpose,” she said to me shortly before I started writing this column. And she wouldn’t, but the pain is necessary, so necessary. If only she could count properly. She counts like my mum used to when she ripped off a plaster when I was a kid: “I’ll count to three. One…” Rip! “You lied! You lied!” But Lydia does it with hands so educated they turned legs that were so sore I could barely walk after a stupidly brutal fifth stage of the Absa Cape Epic. The sixth day, an 119km slog through the rain, mud and hail (at one water point according to Hans de Ridder of Sagitta, who supply me with my KTM 29er) was what I described to Karl Platt, the German rider with the Bulls team, as a “f**king proper day”. He agreed. They had taken it easy after Stefan Sahm, his partner, had struggled with form and, as Karl gently put it, “lots of kakking”.
The rain had begun shortly after we had finished the fourth stage on Thursday. I woke up at 4.30am to send a “fax” and could hear the pitter patter of trouble on my camper van. The stage must surely be cancelled?!? I can’t get my bike wet? But the Epic, which has had but two (possibly three days) of rain in its history, went ahead. We rode into a deluge, soaked after 10km and thoroughly “over” the race before it had really begun. It was atrocious. The mud stuck to the sensitive bits of bikes and hurt them. Derailleurs clogged up, chains sucked and people fell over. You had to pump your legs to get up to 10km/h on the flats.
It was a daft day, finished by some “legendary” single track in Oak Valley. As Jack Stroucken, my Team Absa partner said, it would be fun any other time but it sapped what little power and energy were left in legs that had hundreds of kilometres in them.
I was thinking about Lydia on the single track, wondering how much work she’d have to do when I got back to the Team Absa compound. Lydia is part of a team led by Francois Pienaar, a man armed with a BSc, honours and more qualifications than I’d care to mention. He draws the pain out of others on the massage table next to me, while Lydia looks at the scratches on my legs and asks if I crashed again. The answer is usually yes. She massages around the bruises, of which I now have around 10. Or 12. I forget. Lydia works the “blockages”, the knots, and then pushes hard on the “lines” on my quads and ITB. It can be excruciating, but I told Lydia I’m from Boksburg and can handle it. But I can’t. She’ll hurt me tomorrow for the last time after I’ve hurt myself yet again on the sixth and second-last stage. She stretched my quads and sent me on my way. “Good luck. You’ll be here. I know it.”
Lydia could feel the pain in my legs yesterday. I could barely walk to the showers.
*Kevin McCallum is riding the Absa Cape Epic as a part of Team Absa, the sponsor’s celebrity-media team. He is raising money for The Star Seaside Fund.